From New York to Los Angeles, every metropolitan city in the US has produced its fair share of rappers and Philadelphia is no exception. The seventh most populous city in the US, ‘The City Of Brotherly Love’ has given hip-hop culture some icons. As the largest city in the US state of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, commonly referred to as ‘Philly’, has a population of approximately 1,603,797 and a large community of creative African-Americans.
Located halfway between New York and Baltimore, Philadelphia sees a lot of different music and has provided the world with some fantastic musicians. During the 1960s and 1970s, the city cultivated its own music scene and developed its own soul music subgenre.
Often referred to as ‘Philly soul’, the style was characterised by its obvious funk influences fused with lush instrumental arrangements, such as orchestral strings and horn sections. It’s a mark of extra skill and arrangement that sets the city’s sound out on its own path.
Concerning hip-hop, which began to emerge during the early 1980s within the city, Philadelphia was very much aligned with what New York was producing but was much quicker to adopt the electro sound than New York. Since the ’80s, many notable rappers have been born and raised in Philadelphia. Still, for this article, we’ve narrowed it down to five.
Here are our picks for the five best rappers from Philadelphia.
The five most legendary rappers from Philadelphia:
5. Schoolly D
Schoolly D is a hip-hop legend and was arguably the first rapper from Philadelphia to successfully break into the rap mainstream. First emerging in the mid-’80s, Schoolly D was often aided by DJ Code Money concerning production and local radio airplay. One of the rapper’s most well-known tracks is ‘PSK’. This track inspired Ice-T to make his legendary ‘6 ‘N the Mornin’. Schoolly D was one of the first MCs to incorporate realism and political messages into his rhymes.
At a similar time to artists such as Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash, Schoolly D down in Philadelphia was most definitely part of rap’s first conscious wave. ‘PSK’ featured on his 1985 self-titled debut album, Schoolly D. The album is considered the predecessor of gangster rap. Most definitely a legend.
4. State Property
State Property was a legendary rap group during the late 1990s and early 2000s. It comprised of Freeway, Peedi Crakk, Oschino Vasquez, Omillio Sparks, and the duo Young Gunz. The collective was spearheaded by their frontman Beanie Sigel. Coming up on the Philadelphia underground through mixtapes that found their way to New York, State Property was quickly signed to Roc-A-Fella in 2001.
With the backing of Jay-Z and given their own subsidiary of Rocawear called State Property Wear, the group headed for the charts. In collaboration with Lionsgate, Roc-A-Fella put out a film in 2002 entitled State Property that was a form of promotion for the crew. The crime-drama film exclusively starred members of the group along with Jay-Z. The film’s soundtrack was the crew’s de facto debut album and surprisingly peaked at number 14 on the Billboard 200. One of their most well-known songs is crew member Freeway’s ‘What We Do’ featuring Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel.
3. Lil Uzi Vert
Although Lil Uzi Vert may not be the most lyrical rapper in the world, while some purist hip-hop heads may find his music deplorable, there is no denying that he has been one of the most popular and relevant rappers that Philly has produced in a very long time. First picked up by Don Cannon who referred Uzi to the legendary DJ Drama, who assisted Lil Wayne in the 2000s with his mixtapes. Don Cannon heard about Lil Uzi Vert due to his music being played on local Philadelphia radio by DJ Diamond Kuts.
Upon being referred to DJ Drama, the North Philadelphia rapper (real name Symere Woods) signed with Generation Now, Drama and Cannon’s joint label under Atlantic Records. Since his signing in 2014, Lil Uzi Vert has remained a mainstay and one of the most popular yet controversial rappers. Appearing on the XXL cover in 2016, Lil Uzi Vert was part of the ‘Freshman Class’ that ended up being labelled the ‘Slow Class’ and would be the primary target for all those opposed to mumble rap. Irrespective of if he is the best lyricist, he certainly can make catchy, exciting music and has been prominent for the best part of eight years.
2. Black Thought
Black Thought is very much a figurehead within the older hip-hop community. With his career origins in the mid-’90s, Black Thought is known for his lyrical ability and extremely conscious lyrics. He is also renowned for having a very soulful and jazz-inspired type of sonic. The rapper is also a known poet. Born and raised in Philadelphia, the rapper (real name Tariq Trotter) was born to parents who were both part of the Black-Islamic religious movement, The Nation Of Islam. As a result, his music is extraordinarily afro-centric and politically controversial.
Unlike previous rappers mentioned, Black Thought did not come up through mixtapes but put out a series of albums independently that did very well in Philadelphia and New York on an underground level operating in the same space as artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common. Behind the commercial Gangsta and Mafioso rap movements in the ’90s was a more underground, conscious and soul-based form of hip-hop.
Black Thought is most known for his work as part of The Roots, a hip-hop collective and band formed in the late 1980s by Trotter and his friend Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson. Operating out of Philadelphia the collective began recruiting rappers and instrumentalists to create sample-free, original, jazz-inspired rap. Scott Storch was part of the group as the keyboard player, and so was the bassist Ben Kenney. The group gained momentum and a cult following in Europe before being recognised in the US. However, alongside The Soulquarians and other similar groups, they eventually broke into the mainstream.
1. Will Smith (The Fresh Prince)
Will Smith achieved many fantastic feats early in his career and proved himself an exceptionally versatile entertainer. Seamlessly transitioning from rapping to acting with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smith became one of the world’s most prevalent young black actors with roles in films such as Independence Day and Men In Black. However, as one half of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Smith was a star way before he hit the big screen.
Although Will Smith is primarily renowned for being an actor, many people in hip-hop also know him to be a competent rapper. Although several of his records within the genre were commercial and extremely radio-friendly, he still put out his fair share of music. From ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It’ to ‘Summertime’, Smith and his discography undoubtedly have a place in the hip-hop history books.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Smith was an aspiring rapper before he was an actor. He first garnered attention as part of the hip hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. The latter was his stage name. The pair landed a number of top 20 hits in the US and UK before Smith transitioned into the world of acting. The songs that they produced were fun and light-hearted hip-hop songs, perfect for children and for the family.
The West-Philadelphia duo even earned Grammy nominations. Their most well-known hits include the likes of, ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ and ‘Summertime’. The former earned the act a Grammy Award for ‘Best Rap Performance’ in 1989. Both Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff (real name Jeffrey Townes) would continue to make music together until 1994, selling over five million albums. With this being the case Will Smith is undoubtedly the most successful, famous and respected rapper to come out of Philadelphia as before he was a movie star he was an emcee and a successful one at that.